The island's unique seaweed eating sheep, an Old Beacon featured on prime time television and the flight path for thousands of migratory birds have all helped put North Ronaldsay on the map.
It’s a small island and the most isolated and northerly of Orkney’s populated isles which has preserved a distinct cultural tradition; loved by visitors and residents. It has one of the most well attended Harvest Homes anywhere in Orkney and a strong community spirit.
North Ronaldsay sheep are an ancient breed which are kept on the foreshore by a 13-mile drystone wall known as a dyke and live mainly on seaweed. They are allowed on pasture only during lambing and are managed by a sheep court of islanders. Their mutton is prized by top chefs and a mutton run, using the idea of the Beaujolais run, took carcasses to Edinburgh and London.
The Old Beacon was built in the 1780s to warn ships of the infamous rocks of Reef Dyke. It is one of the earliest lights in the country and was featured on the BBC’s Restoration programme. It didn’t win the top prize money but it won the Scottish heat and the project to restore it and associated buildings continues.
Nearby is the more recent Stevenson lighthouse which has guided tours through the North Ronaldsay Trust. Former lighthouse buildings have been converted into upmarket self catering units, a café and a woollen mill, using fleece from the famous sheep and selling garments and throws. The Trust also manages a modern house in the island aimed at attracting new families and keeping the school viable. It's hoped the development of more tourism attractions will create new jobs. Other facilities include a post office and the Old Kirk where island photographs and documents are displayed.
The North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory offers accommodation and the opportunity to record the fantastic array of native and migratory birds heading for Iceland, Greenland and Scandinavia. As well as a good spot for a huge number of species and rarities, North Ronaldsay has recorded pods of passing killer whales and pilot whales, as well as porpoises and dolphins - and even a walrus in 2013! A standing stone and broch and other prehistoric settlement remnants can be seen on the island.
There is a weekly car ferry from Kirkwall on Fridays and flights every day.
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